ExxonMobil’s climate fraud case finally goes to trial

“This will only be the second climate-change case ever to go to trial in the United States.”

Image credit: Coalition for Clean Air

ExxonMobile, the United States’ largest fossil fuel company, goes to trial this week over accusations that the company lied to investors about the cost of climate change on the business.

“This will only be the second climate-change case ever to go to trial in the United States,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

Exxon is accused by the New York attorney general of misleading investors, using two sets of numbers when assigning an internal price to carbon that modeled how government regulation might affect business. One set of numbers the company used in presentations to their investors while another set of numbers was used in internal documents, essentially skewing the estimations of potential returns on investment.

“Exxon in effect erected a Potemkin village to create the illusion that it had fully considered the risks of future climate change regulation and had factored those risks into its business operations,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of Exxon’s fraud, the company was exposed to far greater risk from climate change regulations than investors were led to believe.” A defeat could also lesson Exxon’s reputation with the public.

Although many journalists point out that any sort of fine against the company would be “a drop in the bucket” a guilty verdict could “send a signal to companies that New York intends hold them accountable for climate change, including their disclosure of the potential risks.”

On Monday, a team of researchers released a new report detailing the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign of deception, aimed at hoodwinking the American public.

Once again connecting the fossil fuel industry with the tobacco industry’s efforts to mislead the American public into thinking cigarettes were safe, the report shows how “the fossil fuel industry has subjected the American public to a well-funded, well-orchestrated disinformation campaign about the reality and severity of human-caused climate change.”

The well-timed report also “explores the techniques used to mislead the American public about climate change, and outlines ways of inoculating against disinformation.” You can read it here.

In August, Exxon was accused of trying to discourage witnesses from testifying against them in the case. The company was accused of intimidating witnesses by making them disclose all contact they’ve had with experts and environmental groups. Environmental groups refused to back down, however, declaring “we won’t be intimidated.”


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